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New York debates dumping its 'millionaire's tax'

November 4, 2011 |  9:22 am

New York’s popular Democratic governor is battling his party’s establishment over the state’s so-called “millionaire’s tax.” He’s against it, but not only are Democratic and liberal leaders for it, the majority of New Yorkers also support the special tax.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has repeatedly pointed out that he was elected last year pledging no new taxes, and he's determined to stick by the philosophy that more taxes won’t solve the state’s financial woes. At a news conference recently, the governor reiterated his view that New York’s economic future is not sustainable if it has high taxes and drives businesses to leave the state.

"The competitiveness of this state is hurt when you're one of the highest-tax states in the nation, and businesses and people are more mobile than ever before," Cuomo said, according to an NPR report. "I also believe that point is all but inarguable."

The surcharge, enacted two years ago, applies to individuals who earn more than $200,000 a year and to families that make more than $300,000. It is supposed to end Dec. 31. But union leaders and liberal groups are pressing for an extension. They say that, with New York facing a projected $2.4-billion deficit next year, the state can’t afford to lose the revenue.

A poll last week showed that New Yorkers, 2 to 1, support extending the tax.

"I think the public is clearly with us," Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Manhattan Democrat, told reporters in Albany on Tuesday. "I think ultimately after several months of debate, I think that we and the public can win that discussion." Last spring, Silver unsuccessfully proposed extending the tax only for those who earn more than $1 million.

The Occupy Wall Street movement has highlighted frustrations over income inequities in the country and anger over the ability of wealthy taxpayers to take advantage of tax loopholes. Protesters this week marched to the governor’s Manhattan office carrying a banner that said, “No tax breaks for millionaires.”

And at a rally last month, John Samuelson, president of the Transit Workers Union Local 100, said the state couldn’t afford to put the burden of the $5 billion in lost revenue on working families.

"The wealthiest people in New York state are going to get a nice take-home pay raise on Jan. 1, while working families continue to struggle," Samuelson said, according to a video posted on the union’s website. "It's not the wealthiest New Yorkers that need monetary relief. It's working families."

Still, the governor’s supporters in Republican ranks and in the business community are gearing up for what might be Cuomo's first pitched battle in Albany; so far he has had little opposition to his legislative agenda. As for the governor, he's trying to calm New Yorkers by emphasizing that he understands their concerns, but extending the tax is not a solution.

“I get the fear and frustration that’s out there. I really do,” he said this week.


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--Geraldine Baum in New York

Photo: New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is honored at the AOL Huffington Post Game Changers Awards at Skylight Soho in New York. Credit: Evan Agostini/Associated Press